For years I’ve used appreciation of “Upright Citizens Brigade” as a litmus test for friendship. That’s not an attempt to be clever or anything like that, it’s actually true. At some point I realized that something about my sense of humor lined up so completely with the sketch comedy of Amy Peohler and company that those people who didn’t enjoy it, weren’t generally people I usually got along with. How can you not love the “Bucket of Truth”? If I show a new entry into my social circle my well-worn DVD copy of season one, and they don’t laugh, I generally distance myself from them. That may sound harsh, but it’s served me well (and had these measures been enacted earlier, they could have saved me many headaches and heartbreaks). Given my proclivities, of course when I heard that Matt Walsh, one of the founding members of UCB, was going to be at the Seattle International Film Festival hyping his directorial debut, “High Road”, I giggled like a little girl.
Fitz (James Pumphrey) plays drums in a sweet band with his childhood friends Richie (Matt L. Jones, Badger from “Breaking Bad”) and Tommy (Zach Woods, “The Office”). They’re going to be huge one day, they’re just one or two gigs away from really making some noise. At least that’s what Fitz thinks. In reality, he’s a small-scale pot dealer, though he’s in denial about that fact; he just likes weed, always has a lot of it around, and has friends who occasionally need some. Tommy and Richie decide to move on to greener pastures—for Tommy it’s a White Stripes cover band with Lizzy Caplan, while Richie lands a gig as a douche-bag entertainment industry exec—leaving Fitz in a deep cycle of depression where he hangs out in his bathrobe, dealing weed to people like Uncle Creepy (Kyle Gass from “Tenacious D”), writing the worst rock opera ever, and hanging out with Monica (Abby Elliot), his girlfriend who is way out of his league.
After a misunderstanding where Fitz jumps to the conclusion that the police after him—they’re not—he goes on the lam, with teenage runaway Jimmy (Dylan O’Brien, who is going to play Stiles in the new “Teen Wolf” show) forcing his way along for the ride. Jimmy’s dad (Rob Riggle) and his buddy (Jo Lo Truglio), an agro little dude who works in a police department gym, pursue them up the coast from LA to Oakland. It’s a road trip movie of sorts, one where the rudest hooker ever mercilessly berates Fitz for eating a turkey sandwich. In the meantime, Monica is pregnant and makes out with her boss (Ed Helms), and there is a subplot about Fitz’s deadbeat, drag-queen dad, Arnie (Rich Fulcher).
Walsh and company started out with a script, got producer Kirk Roos on board, put together a cast of comedy chums, and immediately threw most of the written words out the window in favor of manic ad-libbing. Given the talent involved in “High Road”, a who’s who of current improvisational comedy, you can imagine why there are times when the movie feels like a string of off-the-cuff skits loosely strung together. Because that’s exactly what it is. In the Q & A portion of the evening, Walsh said that at one point there was an eight-hour cut of “High Road”, so somewhere there is a room full of extra footage. It is also exactly as much fun as you would a movie with all of these people to be. The story veers off on wild, random tangents at the drop of a hat, and scenes go on longer than they normally would just because the characters are riffing back and forth, and it’s fucking hilarious. “High Road” is comparable to “Bridesmaids” in this regard—from a narrative perspective it may not be as solid as other, tighter films, but what it lacks in cohesion and coherence, it more than makes up for with riotous laughs, questionable taste, and some funny, funny nonsense.
Sadly, “High Road” is never going to find mainstream success and acceptance. The acting is too hit-and-miss, and as a whole the movie is too uneven for that to happen. Which is unfortunate because it really is a blast. But given the right distributor, “High Road” could easily tumble into a larger cult status akin to a movie like “Mystery Team”.